Ask Dr. Mary: Teaching Right and Wrong

Plus single moms and day care; enforcing naptime

Q. My 4-year-old is a strong-willed child who always seems to be in trouble. Her misbehavior ranges from mild rebellion to fits of anger in which she screams and breaks her brother's toys. I feel guilty when I'm always disciplining her, but I don't know what else to do.

A. Discipline comes from the word disciple, which means to teach. Jesus taught his disciples; we teach our children. So there is nothing inherently wrong with discipline.
Our children need limits. Although it might not always be apparent, they actually want clear, consistent boundaries. So if you are always disciplining your daughter, that's good, because you are teaching her by doing so.
It's true that some crimes require punishment, but we need to go beyond punishment. We must always refocus on the goal: to teach a child what is right. For most children, the single most effective way to discipline is to catch the child being good. So give her verbal praise, a hug or even a reward when she does something right.

Q. My kids attend a before-and after-school program at their school. I need the convenience, but I don't like the program. I'm a single mom and don't have time to get involved to change it. Is there anything I can do?

A. Make a list of what you want in a program. Be specific and focus on your children's needs. For example, if they need a nutritious after-school snack or a quiet place to do homework, write that down. Then examine your list to remove expectations that might be nice but are unrealistic.
If you have identified goals that appear reasonable but are not being met, make an appointment to meet with the program's administrator. Be aware that even though the programs are held at school, they might be run by a local ymca, park district or private company. Begin and end the conversation with positive comments about the service.
If the administrator promises change, set an appointment to meet or talk again by phone in four to six weeks to get an update on the improvements.

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May 25

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